Parachutes

by Alex Coulton

The puddled sky on the road is white as a bathroom wall.

In London, the leaves have been falling for days, fingerprints of the coming season pointing the way. First yellow sycamores, their crisp edges skittering, coltish, on the tarmac. Then old horse-chestnuts, brown in the gutters, slipping sinister through the grating to the sewers. But although I know they’re coming, I don’t see the first splashes of red until I’m in the park with Echo, walking steadily along the paths where I used to run, wondering if I’ll be able to eat anything tonight.

The hour has gone on now and by 5pm the light is beginning to fade. The darkness pushes up first through narrow paths between the trees. It waits and thickens round the back of the municipal tennis courts, and clots messily in ditches beginning to run with autumn rain. It’s down near Highgate Cemetery that I feel the first fingers of wind clutch on my skin and see the maple leaves ahead, geisha-girl red in the gathering gloom. First just one little parachute lands at my feet. Then a skirl of wind brings them all down in a shower, spinning fast and bright like majorettes in a parade. Echo shakes his head as one grazes his ear. I stand and watch as the wind gusts them into the ditch. They float on the surface of the autumn run-off, veined and fragile, like the print of a lip, or a hand.

The sun has set now, leaving vivid streaks above the purpled fog of street-lights. There are rain-clouds gathering, heavy and dark, but between them soon something else will emerge, a little crumpled perhaps, but recognisable, a grey, translucent sac. Another autumn moon.

You’re very healthy, they tell me. No-one knows why this happens.

In the darkness, the leaves continue to fall.

Alex Coulton is an English teacher living in Herefordshire. She recently completed an MSt in Creative Writing at Oxford University.

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